Chávez Ravine Needling

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For the fifth year in a row, I made a trip to Dodger Stadium, and every year seems a little different.

The first year, I watched the Dodgers beat the Milwaukee Brewers.

The second year, I watched the Dodgers beat the Milwaukee Brewers, but with a far more embarrassing result.

The third year, the Dodgers lost, just not to the Brewers.

The fourth year, I didn’t even leave the parking lot. That was last summer, and I went there to do the merry-go-round that was COVID-19 testing.

Last Friday marked year five. Again, I didn’t leave the parking lot, but this time I knew the outcome.

On Friday, I received my first Modero COVID-19 vaccine. Two days removed, and I am feeling no ill effects except for a little bit of soreness at the injection site. With the current Modero vaccine, I will have to get a second shot which is tentatively scheduled for April 16th. I got the first shot just five days after I became eligible for it. Los Angeles County has progressed to allowing people with pre-existing health conditions, so maybe there is some good to my lifetime of bad choices. I wasn’t nervous about getting vaccinated, until three in the morning of the event. I made the dumb move of having a peanut butter sandwich before heading to bed – and it gave me massive acid reflux. I woke up and found myself coughing stomach acid out of my lungs. What I didn’t need was a a wet hacking cough while in line to prevent a pandemic in my house. That, and I forgot to take my meds that morning. So by the time I got home, I was miserable, and I didn’t know if it was my PB&J, forgetfulness, or my ounce of prevention to blame.

I chose Dodger Stadium as my vaccine site, because it was a relatively close drive-thru site with easy appointments. After I became eligible, appointments filled pretty fast, so it wasn’t until Wednesday before I could access open times. I grabbed Friday at 10am, working around my work schedule and not getting caught in traffic.

When I got tested there the year before, it was about 1-1/2 hours to work through the line that started a good mile outside of the ballpark, even when I had an appointment. So I was expecting something like that. My hopes were up when I passed a hand made sign that said “2 hours from this spot” and I saw no line in sight. In fact, I was flagged into the parking lot without even a hint of a wait. They were set up for it, however, because upon entering the parking we started the “Dodger Stadium Obstacle Course.” Intended to be a staging area on a busy day, an entire section of the parking lot was filled with pathways created by cones segmented out into two lanes. There were temporary lights and port-a-johns stationed at regular intervals in case folks get stuck in the area too long. The paths weaved back and forth reversing directions and turning corners. There was no wait in this area, so cars just continuously moved through. From outside, all you see is a sea of orange cones, and an occasional slow moving car somewhere deep into the mess. By a sea of orange cones, I mean hundreds and hundreds. Illinois road crews would say “that’s a lot of cones.” Just as the two lanes back back together as one, we crossed a street and entered the last staging area. At first, cars were broken into a two or three lanes. Then rows of cars were filled with about 10 cars. There it was suggested we shut off the cars, because we would be sitting there for a bit. About twenty minutes later, we were allowed to drive forward under a large tent, and again it was suggested that we shut off the cars.

In this ten was where the staff made their rounds. One by one, they verified our ID, check off that we made our appointment, and gave us the social media famous vaccine cards. Then a nurse with a car came up and did the sticking. After the last car in the row got the job done, we were on a 15 minute clock. At the end of that time, they asked us if we had any issues – and we were sent on our way.

I’m sharing all this in part because it was the most interesting thing to talk about in my life right now (because Fox Sports hasn’t worked out a contract to get Aussie Rules Football in American yet). Also, if you have any concerns about the vaccine, I wanted to share my positive experience. I know that some of you face real concerns with the vaccine, and had deep talks about the subject. If you don’t have real medical history with bad vaccines, I’d really recommend you get vaccinated. Experts with actual degrees in this sort of thing have said that the only way to make the virus go away is to make the world immune. It worked for Small Pox, it worked for Polio, it can work with COVID-19.

Let’s get back to normal, so I can go back to being disappointed at Dodger Stadium.

Teambuilding With Among Us

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Recently, someone identified that I had a meeting notice on my calendar that said “Among Us.” I said it was a teambuilding exercise. They replied: “Yeah, because nothing says teambuilding like murdering each other than lying about it.”

Among Us is a free-to-play online game that is taking the gaming world by storm. In Among Us, you play a armless peanut of different colors who is on a spaceship, or planet, or something. Usually involving ten players, most are randomly selected as a “crewmate”, while two are selected as “imposters.” It’s a game that rolls out out in two phases. In the main play phase, the crewmates run around the game trying to perform tasks (which are meaningless little puzzles). Meanwhile, the imposters run around trying to kill the crewmates — its cartoonish, so it’s pretty family friendly. The imposters have a ‘cooldown’ which means they have to wait between kills, but they have the ability to use vents to sneak around the map, and also can sabotage parts of the map to gain an advantage. If someone comes across a dead body, the player can report a death which leads to the meeting phase. During the meeting phase, players have the ability to vote off who they think is an imposter. If a someone gets more votes than any others, that person is ejected from the ship. The game is won by the crewmates if either they complete all the tasks, or they vote off all the imposters. The game is won by the imposters if they either kill enough crewmates so there is an equal number of crew and imposters, or a sabotage runs its course and times out.

Or put more simply, we are talking about a interactive murder mystery. It’s a battle between detectives to find the bad guy, and the bad guys trying to get away with their deeds. As an imposter, your strategy is undoubtedly to cause havoc. You can get your kills in places where no one catches you. You can frame someone else for a murder. You can even throw your teammate under the bus just to make it look like you are innocent. For the crewmates, you have to balance completing your tasks with trying to identify the imposters. Some of the challenges to that are part of gameplay. Like you could be doing a task, and the puzzle covers your screen so that when you finish you find yourself next to a dead body … and no one else.

The game is based played with people who know each other. Also, it is best played when they are different locations, but are patched into a group call – like through Skype, WebEx, or Discord. Which means, it’s perfect for game players living under a “Stay at Home” order. I’m currently in one lobby of co-workers who get together every two weeks to “team build”, and am working on a second lobby of friends. Honestly, I have only been playing it for a month or two, but the influence has been around me for most of the last year.

Last summer, on-line gamers took advantage of the time at home to stream their Among Us games. They stream live on either Twitch or YouTube, and then follow it up with summary videos on YouTube as well. If you aren’t into video games and wonder why anyone would want to watch someone else play a game … well, I tell ya, it’s highly entertaining. They display their tricks, their methods, and their meltdowns in hilarious ways. High quality players like Disguised Toast, Valkarea, and Pokimane team up in lobbies of good friends laughing, playing, and enjoying the game. Yet goofballs like SocksFor1 and Mr. Blaza give us the weirdness of creative minds set wild. It’s so big that every day, there are tens of millions of views of Among Us videos. Content is so fresh that game updates are trackable.

The game is so widespread that these videos are adding to the English language. Take for instance “Sus.” Short for suspicious, it’s not used in place of suspicious. Mostly from the crewmate perspective, it is treated like a verb (“I am trying to sus out the imposter”), as a noun for the actions people take, (“Dude, why are you throwing sus on me?”), and as an adjective to describe actions (“Bra, you’re being kinda sus”). Oh yeah, and “bra” is a new word for “bro.”

There’s even a great meme out there that redoes the classic twist scene from Empire Strikes Back:

Luke: “He told me you killed my father.”

Black (Darth Vader): “Na bra, I was in electrical doing tasks.”

So, that’s how we team build during a pandemic. Faking tasks, running through Speci, hanging by the tree in O2, venting out of security, and camping cams.

Percy’s Firsts

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It’s been two weeks since the Perseverance Rover landed on Mars, and while in the grand scope of the mission not a lot has happened, a lot of things have happened. So far, we have received 7000 images from the rover. Flight software updates were sent across the gap between Earth and Mars, and the system is nominal. The rover’s masts and robotic arms have been deployed, and things are working as they should. Yesterday, Percy took it’s first drive on the red planet, including a six meter trek and a check-out donut. Many of the scientific instruments are still coming on line, as the team continues to take a step approach to start-up, and the helicopter is still weeks away from deployment. In other words, we know we can walk, we just aren’t ready to chew gum at the same time.

For us JPL’s who aren’t directly involved with the mission, we are gobbling up whatever is leaked out from progress. Today, they held the second post landing press conference, and a large number of people are blocking meeting time off so that we can watch the press conference. Sometimes, we get leaks and rumors, and the rest of us eat all that stuff up. The first press conference caused half the lab to melt down. Held just a few days after the landing, the Perseverance team shared video of the landing. The video includes cameras on the decent stage, up at the parachute, below the sky crane, and up from the rover – all posted against the audio of the crew watching from mission control. It was the first video shared If you haven’t seen it, check it out:

The call “Tango Delta” still give me chills.

One of the great moments on those early days happened in a discussion thread I called “the most JPL thread in JPL history.” Historically, JPL like to add special twists to our missions that start as inside jokes and then can become Easter eggs for people to find. Curiosity had Morse Code cut into the wheels that spelt JPL in the sand as it drove around. We’ve known Percy’s tires wouldn’t have something like that, so many people guessed what it could be. During that first press conference, it was revealed. They put a code in the color scheme of the parachute, though they didn’t say what the code was – just that we had to “show our work.” Over the next four hours, 120 replies were made on a single thread from JPLers guessing, and helping to crack the code. It was a group of some of the smartest people in the world helping each other to try to crack a code that we wrote. As it turned out, (SPOILER ALERT) the code was based on ASCI that when converted into numbers and letters spelt our our motto: “Dare Mighty Things” and the GPS Coordinates of JPL’s main gate.

The early photos near the landing show curious rocks suggesting volcanic activity, but the location was selected because it is a short drive from what appears to be a dried river delta. So much is going so well that the whole team is over the moon with excitement. Almost as a reward, the Perseverance Team received a video call from President Biden congratulating them on their success. The main quote from that call was when someone asked him about a moon rock he had in his possession. He said. “if you think this is great, wait until you see what we bring back from Mars.”